Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

2016: A year in the red (and occasionally green)

I am a bit late with a reflective type post, mostly because this sort of thing starts to feel a bit self-indulgent. But I realised I wanted some data to quantify the year a bit as 2016 has marked some changes in work for me. And if I’m going to think it, I might as well write it and, if I’m going to write it, I might as well blog it. It’s been a year of persistence, often in the face of periods of discouragement. 2016 was the year writing fully transitioned away from being a hobby I sometimes earnt money from to being an activity otherwise known as work.

This is the bit where I’m supposed to say how fabulous it is to live the dream and turn a passion into a job. Sorry, but writing as a hobby was much better. Writing only for work is surrounded by a million other tasks that SUCK. What is escapism, fun, sometimes transformative, that feeling of channelling some inspiration that comes from outside myself … none of it applies to sending out pitches and enquiries, getting rejected — or worse — ignored, chasing the pitch, recording how many times I’ve followed up, filling out the endless paperwork to get paid and authorised, creating the invoice and then probably chasing payment, checking my bank account and marking it in a spreadsheet so I can see just how many invoices remain unpaid (10 at present count) and then thinking where to resend the rejected and ignored pitches out to start the whole thing off again. THEY. ALL. SUCK.

I have only just understood where that piece of American slang comes from. It must mean it sucks the life and joy out of everything. The good bit —  getting an acceptance (a quick rejection being the second best thing) and then seeing it online is a fleeting part of the process — I only have a few print things so far and they usually forget to post me my copy — especially if it’s a new-to-me place or a biggie. This is how that looks on my tracking spreadsheet, the document I am faced with every time I open my laptop, and as a pie chart.


Pitches: 147

Acceptances (green): 34

Rejections (red): 55

No response (blue): 39

Withdrawn by me (yellow): 8

                                                                                                                                                      Waiting to hear (white): 11

This year has been about diversifying. I never directly sought out much writing work outside ELT  before but, being as diverse as possible means never being wholly reliant on one source of income. If it was 10 or 15 years ago, maybe I could have made a decent living off just writing Graded Readers which is how I started out with publishing. Those days are long gone, and so I think, if this (about editing) is anything to go on, are the days of making a living solely off ELT materials writing, save for a very few people. Though, that said, my self-publishing efforts (under my own name and another)  have been both fun, flowed easily and are going well. One pen-named book got picked by Amazon for a Kindle Daily Deals promotion which proved to me that without Amazon on your side, promo is so much tougher. The daily deal put the book at No 1 overall in Paid Books for a couple of days, dwindling over a few more days to a steadyish 1-4 sales on most days ever since. If I could only work out why they picked it so I could replicate it!

chartELT in 2016 did still account for about half my earnings this year, but probably about half of that was down to one gig that has now ended. I doubt I should rely on it to make up more than half of 2017’s income, if that. Which is OK because I’ve been writing about other things for a load of other publications. And one topic is proving to be the one I can write about the most easily, is constantly giving me more material, occupies most of my headspace anyway and has an inexhaustible audience: parenting related articles which made up 41% of last year’s income. Miscellaneous articles (about fashion, psychology, Brexit and Fintech) are second at 18%, then food (16%), ELT/English Language (13%), writing about writing (11%) and, lastly, relationships was just 1%.

chart3In terms of numbers of articles accepted, those ratios are only a bit different. Writing about writing comes out second highest at 21%, while food, ELT/English Language and miscellaneous are equal at 15% each. Parenting is still the biggest chunk of what I’ve written about at 32%.

But am I also getting more rejections from parenting? I should probably compare rejection/no response rates to acceptances too so I can see not only what I’m writing more of, but what has the best chance of being accepted. But, as that also depends on how many of a certain category I pitch in the first place, I don’t think the answer will mean much. I could be wrong about that though as, at this point, I remember that I taught English and wish I remembered more about stats. At any rate, less than half my acceptances were from the first place I pitched and most “enjoyed” between one and six rejections before finding a home.

So, persistence pays off but then you have to devote way too much of that persistence just to get all the crappy admin done. Pushing myself to find time for creative writing again might rejig the ratios of the whole thing so, to that end, I’m doing a course I saw advertised on Facebook, screenwriting, delivered by Aaron Sorkin. I’ve never managed to stick to an online course before so we’ll see. Glossy production values might be all it takes. And focusing on the self-published stuff and other avenues for it, like online courses also makes sense. This is not so much a New Year’s resolution, as a clarification of things already underway which makes it more likely to succeed than my ending sugar’s hold over my life.


9 comments on “2016: A year in the red (and occasionally green)

  1. Andrew Leon Hudson
    January 4, 2017

    Well, if you’re going to be self-indulgent you may as well get around to it in your own good time…

    • Nicola
      January 4, 2017

      I should really have been doing something else when I was writing this so I am not sure it was my own time

  2. Mike Harrison
    January 4, 2017

    I’ve noticed those ‘Masterclass’ courses popping up on my FB feed too. I’m tempted, but not sure about shelling out for any yet as my bank balance is still fairly low after a year of freelancing. Would be interested to hear how you get one with the screenwriting one.

    • Mike Harrison
      January 4, 2017

      Ergh ‘get on’*

    • Nicola
      January 4, 2017

      I’ll let you know (which is a promise that will help me stay on track with course completion). I watched the intro before Xmas, planning to start mid Jan as I have a ton of deadlines first.First impression is good, in that, I’m utterly convinced that if the experts they have can impart even 10% of what they know, it’s got to be good as they made sure you’re blown away by Sorkin’s credentials (plus I just watched his Steve Jobs film and was even more convinced). I think they’re reasonably priced too and curious to see how they handle the section where you can get actual Sorkin feedback somehow. Am thinking they pick questions from all those submitted each week and he is being paid for one hour of webcast time. Which one would you want to do?

      • Mike Harrison
        January 4, 2017

        I was thinking either the Werner Herzog or upcoming Annie Leibovitz look interesting for me – I’d like to see if I can do more with my photography and filming as another avenue to ELT.

  3. Kirsten C
    January 11, 2017

    So good to read this – I thought I was the only one cheating on my EFL writing to make some money! Good to know there are others having to supplement their passion as well.

    Do you have a parenting blog or do you write articles for someone?

    • Nicola
      January 12, 2017

      Hi Kirsten! Now I’m curious what else you write. My stuff is all over the place, parenting/motherhood stuff has been on, Refinery 29, Cosmo, All my stuff is here if you’re interested.

      • Kirsten C
        January 16, 2017

        I do a lot of writing for TEFL companies – blogs, course materials – and otherwise I write for an insurance website (!), but these are mostly a ghostwriter vibe. Trying to get more involved in travel writing but about to become a new mom so maybe I should write about that 🙂

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This entry was posted on January 4, 2017 by in Thoughts, Writing and tagged , .
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